The Class of ’99 — Jane Hutt AM

As we approach twenty years of devolution in Wales I welcome the opportunity to reflect on the past two decades as the Labour Assembly Member in the marginal seat of the Vale of Glamorgan and Minister in the Welsh Government for nineteen years.

When I stood for election in May 1999 I had benefited from the Labour party’s ‘twinning’ process to ensure there was fair representation of women in the new National Assembly of Wales.

I was active in the ‘Yes for Wales’ campaign and I was determined to stand for the Assembly as a strong advocate of devolution with the hope and expectation that it had to deliver a new kind of politics if I played my part to make it happen.

I came into the Assembly in 1999 from posts in the voluntary sector, where I used my leadership role in the sector to press for Welsh solutions to Welsh needs and campaigns. My experience in local government was also informative with twelve years as a County Councillor in the former South Glamorgan CC working with Julie Morgan, First Minister Mark Drakeford and Mick Antoniw, all colleagues now in the Assembly.

I was catapulted into Government following the election in May 1999, appointed by First Secretary Alun Michael to the post of Minister for Health and Social Services two years into the Labour Government in Westminster. In my recent interview with the Institute of Government ‘Ministers reflect on devolution’ I recalled, “the Labour Government in ’97 agreed to carry on with the Tory spending plans and settlement into the first two years of the Labour Government. So the health service was pretty much on is knees in terms of pressures. And also the whole Welsh Assembly, and devolution, were very much under scrutiny as to whether we were worth it, whether we would deliver the goods, because we had such a narrow majority in the referendum and the constituency that I stood in had voted against devolution. So I had to prove myself as an Assembly Member for my constituency and as Minister for Health and Social Services”.[1]

I sought to craft a way forward in line with Welsh Labour values and principles, occasionally coming into conflict with the Labour Government in Westminster — for example, by opposing PFI for the building of new hospitals in Wales, which was strongly advocated in England. I was also focusing on tackling health inequalities securing the advice of poverty expert Professor Peter Townsend, gearing the Health Funding formula to tackle inequalities, and taking advice from Dr. Julian Tudor Hart in the Socialist Health Association. I forged a twin-track approach, working to improve waiting times and manage the NHS IN Wales to deliver better and more equitable services and promote a ‘Health Challenge Wales’ Initiative to improve health and tackle the social determinants of ill health.

When Rhodri Morgan became First Minister in October 2000, he supported this approach and during the 1999–2004 Assembly we launched a number of pioneering initiatives such as the Diabetic Retinopathy Service, the Welsh Eyecare Scheme, and a hospital building programme funded through our public finances.

In the first decade of devolution, I was the Minister responsible for appointing the first Children’s Commissioner in the UK as a result of the Waterhouse Report and we broke new ground by involving children and young people in that appointment. We also closed all the long stay mental handicap hospitals in Wales. This was all part of the Welsh Labour “Made in Wales” approach, reflected in policy making, even at a time of few powers and a minority Labour administration. A measure of political stability was secured in 2001 when a partnership in government was forged with the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

After retaining my seat in 2004 and 2007 (narrowly), I played a key role in crafting the ‘One Wales’ four-year Coalition Agreement with Plaid Cymru. During that time, we initiated the Holtham Commission to review the Barnett Formula. After extensive negotiations with the UK Coalition Government led by myself as Finance Minister and my successor Mark Drakeford, this led to the adjustment of the formula in the new Fiscal Framework confirmed in 2016. A referendum to secure Primary Powers was successful in 2011 leading to the programme of primary legislation which included the pioneering Human Transplantation (Wales) Act, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and legislation concerning housing, planning and the environment.

I have held Ministerial roles in every year of the past twenty years of devolution including Health, Social Services, Education, Finance, and Business Management roles. Responsibility for Finance came in 2009 and as Austerity set in in 2010 it became a challenge to sustain our public services with reducing budgets in a minority Labour administration, but we took decisions to protect our ‘Made in Wales’ priorities, such as free prescriptions, EMAs and free school breakfasts as well as protecting local government. Securing the budget with both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats including the long-lasting commitments to a Pupil Deprivation Grant and the Integrated Care Fund (integrating health and social care) were key outcomes during this period. Some of the most significant social policy dividends of devolution were supported by both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

My reflection on the past twenty years of ministerial responsibility, has led me to conclude that ministerial leadership has required skills in understanding political roles and relationships which have been critical to sustaining a Labour-led Government over the past twenty years.

When Mark Drakeford was elected as the new First Minister for Wales in December 2018 I knew that we had the opportunity to deliver a refreshed and renewed approach to Welsh Labour being in power with a commitment to ‘21st Century Socialism’, reflected in social partnership, a greater focus on tackling inequalities and promoting equality of outcome. As we consult and consider the recommendations of the ‘Parliament That Works for Wales’ and Lord Thomas’ Justice for Wales Commission, we look for new prospects to take the devolution journey forward to embed progressive socialist principles in the government of Wales.

[1] Jane Hutt, 13th September 2018, Ministers Reflect Archive, Institute for Government, Online: [https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/ministers-reflect/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Jane-Hutt.pdf], Accessed: [01/04/18]. P.3. www.instituteforgovernment.co.uk/ministers-reflect

Jane Hutt is the Assembly Member for the Vale of Glamorgan.

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